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As part of the orientation program at Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, my fellow classmates and I underwent a learning experience in the form of a business exercise. We were directed to form teams of two with each member being a “buddy” to his/her fellow teammate. The objective of the exercise was to head out to an assigned part of the city (Koregaon Park in our case) and offer a business organization solutions or services which would be advantageous to them thus earning us a small monetary compensation. A few restrictions were imposed upon us that made sure this was no easy task.

My “buddy” Pujarini Mitra and I head out to Koregaon Park taking a series of “lifts” since we were restricted from spending any money. Our first few attempts were unsuccessful but we were able to convince a multi design boutique called “Araliya” to give us an opportunity to work for them.

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Our work involved unpacking, packing and steam ironing all items in the shop. Since this was a high end store catering to the needs of high profiles clients were needed to be careful not to damage any of the items. We got to interact with the store owner who provided us with valuable information regarding the functioning and the promotional activities of the store. We were even shown some articles published in newspapers regarding the store and the owner.

After spending a good 5 hours we received our compensation from the store owner and set about to a common location we were told to gather at. It was a new experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Facebook was redesigned/re-done up a few months back and I’ve noticed a number of regulars who aren’t a whole lot impressed with the new look. They want the “old facebook” back or atleast still have the option to switch back. Not surprisingly a number of FB groups have been formed petitioning against this change. Bad news folks – the new Facebook is here to stay and there is no turning back as Mark Slee, Product Manager for the new FB revealed on the Facebook Blog on back in September. According to him, having both versions (old and new) on offer would be impractical which makes sense.

From a personal perspective I love the new design and so I was very surprised with everyone’s negative reaction. I love the way everything is so much more organised and most importantly I love the fact that there’s a separate tab for all the stupid applications. Some people tend to be obsessed with applications and so it would clutter up their whole page and make everything else slower. Navigating through various sections of the site is so much easier now. Everything looks good, I say. Get used to it people!

September 2nd, 2008 saw the much anticipated release of Google’s latest offering, a web browser called Google Chrome. A product of Google’s open-source project Google Chromium, the browser, still in beta phase, clearly aims to lessen Internet Explorer’s stranglehold on web browsers the same way browsers like Firefox and others have attempted to do so. A comic book representation of Google Chrome a day before the browser’s official release was innovative and certainly succeeded in building up hype and expectations among millions around the world. Google Chrome was released for download in some 100 countries and as of now is only available for download on Windows platform (XP/Vista). It can be downloaded via this link

My verdict: Google Chrome has received mixed reviews and most of them suggest, as I feel too, that it promises a lot but lacks finish. As it stands, it is clearly an unfinished product with a long way to go before it can be embraced as a serious competitor to IE8.

The minimalist UI is appealing to those who like it simple. There are a few new features but not wholly different from those offered by the other mainstream browsers. In the short term, I doubt it’s going to have any significant effect on IE’s dominance.

I am going to stick with Firefox 3 for now but will keep an eye out for Google Chrome especially once it’s out of beta testing.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics came to a close on Sunday evening after 16 days of enthralling action. The Chinese have done a commendable job and have delivered, in the words of IOC president Jacques Rogge, a “truly exceptional games”. I fully agree with that.

So what will I remember the Olympics in Beijing for? Most definitely the Indian performance. A gold and 2 bronze medals, that too from individual events – you must be kidding me! Hopefully this will inspire a sort of revolution in the country although I have fears that not many people will remember the names Vijender and Sushil Kumar say 10 years down the line. I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.

Usain Bolt. The fastest man on the planet. 3 Gold Medals, 3 World Records in his first Olympics. And he’s not American. This fella is simply amazing. I mean who would even think of celebrating a good 15-20 meters before completing your 100 meter race. What do you know – he might have broken the WR by a larger margin had he not started celebrating so early. Some say he’s being disrespectful and brash with his celebrations but I don’t agree. That just shows his level of confidence. It won’t be long before he breaks the 9.5 seconds barrier.

Michael Phelps. The swimming machine – so much was expected from him and he didn’t disappoint. 8 Golds, many of them world records – most notably the most Gold medals won in a single Olympics breaking Mark Spitz’s long standing record of 7 Golds. Phelps also became the highest Gold medal winner in Olympic history with a tally of 14 Golds in just two Olympic games. Quite amazing isn’t it – and he’s what just 23?

How can I forget the Chinese, the hosts themselves. 51 Golds. 100 medals in total. Simply amazing. They have quitely gone about their jobs leaving the American way behind. Although the Americans won more medals in total, it’s finally the Gold medals that count in the end and the Chinese emerged the clear winners.

So Abhinav Bindra has created history by becoming the first Indian to win an Olympic individual gold and how! Quite honestly, I didn’t have any hopes of India winning a medal – maybe just the faint hope of someone doing a Rathore again. Every four years, a billion Indians pin their hopes on our athletes to achieve glory for the country at the Olympics but are invariably left disappointed. Sometimes a Rathore or a Paes comes along to save face but what Abhinav has achieved this time is a stupendous sporting moment in Indian history.

Abhinav Bindra deserves every bit of the praise he’s received. The government, state governments and other sporting bodies have already showered heaps of praise and announced cash awards for him. The fact that this has all been possible because of the unconditional backing and support provided by Abhinav’s parents should serve as a lesson to the authorities and other sporting bodies as to how they should go about if they aim to produce more Indian Olympic champions in the future.

Exactly a fortnight from today the 2008-09 edition of the Barclays Premier League will commence with the Reds taking on the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light. It has, at times been quite an agonizing wait (especially for a fanatical Liverpool FC supporter like me; I have no patience – I need football 24/7) since the last season ended in May.

Liverpool FC are already halfway through pre-season which has seen them play 5 friendlies winning 2 and drawing 3 games so far. The previous game which was a friendly versus Villarreal saw the triumphant Euro 2008 Spanish contingent return back after a well deserved extended break and also the much awaited debut of new signing Robbie Keane.

The next couple of weeks sees LFC play some more friendlies – most notably against Rangers (away) and Lazio (home). Pre-season friendlies are seen as ideal preparation for the new season – a time for players to ease in and get back to full fitness after a long break. It also gives new signings an opportunity to gel in with their new team-mates and most importantly (from the point of view of a supporter) – a chance show off their talents.

BPL 2008-09 fixtures can be found here

Webscape, part of BBC’s Click programme is something I look forward to everytime I see it on television. The section which is hosted by Kate Russell is all about cool websites and links on the web.  Browsing through the archives I found a couple of great sites:

The first one is a visual search engine called SearchMe which provides categories as and when you type your search string. Say you type the word Liverpool – what you get are categories like sports, business, weather, history, libraries etc. Once you select a category you are provided with relevant pages relating to the selected category. But that’s not the best part. What’s so different about this search engine is that you can actually get a full preview of all page results in the form of a slideshow-like photo album. It’s still in beta stage but I suggest you take a look yourself http://www.searchme.com

The second link which I really liked is MoshiMonster. It’s basically a game where you adopt a friendly monster and take care of it – like a virtual pet. It wasn’t the concept which impressed me – rather it was the way the website has been designed – asthetically pleasing and very user friendly. It’s a pleasure – the signing-up process is fun – take a look http://www.moshimonsters.com

I have been away from home for almost a week now. There was a fire incident at my workplace earlier in July which forced me to come to Hyderabad. Taking into account the criticality of the project and the physical damage caused by the fire there was an urgent need to send over a few folks over to Microsoft at Hyderabad.

Hyderabad is not new to me. I remember coming here about 4 years back visiting the Husain Sagar Lake, Lumbini Park, Charminar, Salar Jung Museum among other places. But this trip is of a different kind, the kind which will not spare me much free time even over the weekends (except for maybe Sunday).

I have been given a room at Infosys Hyderabad DC Hostel. To say that the room is good would be an understatement. It’s as good as a 4/5 star hotel room. To make things even better, the Microsoft Campus is a stones-throw away from the Infosys campus. Travelling long distances is something I always fear.

The MS Campus at Hyderabad is beautiful. The entrance to the campus is pretty low key but upon entering you see imposing buildings with large unmistakable Microsoft logos on each one of them. There are landscaped gardens, trees, fountains and wide roads. It gets even more impressive upon entering the buildings. The interiors are modern and tastefuly done up. The people are warm and courteous. One thing I noticed when comparing MS to Infosys or in general any other Indian IT company is that you don’t see too many people around you. In Infosys, I see people (and loads of them) everywhere – whether it is outside or inside the buildings. The facilities in MS are outstanding. The whole atmosphere is invitingly casual and not like the typical office-types – this is quite expected at an organization which is into production development. We’ve all heard about the Google work environment, haven’t we?

TinEye is an image search engine with a difference. It searches for images on the internet using not “text” but instead an “image”. So basically you need to upload an image or provide the URL of an image on the web and the TinEye search engine will return occurrences of that very image (and modified versions too) with links where they occur. There is also an option to compare the searched image with one of the results to look for variations and differences.

TinEye is still in private beta stage, so you will need to apply for permission to explore this cool concept.

“There is a way to be good again”

Khalid Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” really does “pull on every string in your heart” as one of the comments on the cover page suggests. It is a powerful story of friendship between Amir and Hassan, two young boys growing up in Afghanistan in the 70’s. Amir is the son of a prominent Afghani businessman while Hassan is the son of his father’s long-serving Hazara servant. In spite of this caste barrier, the two boys share a special relationship – one more like brothers which is beautifully portrayed by Hosseini’s fine writing style.

Things take a dramatic turn when Afghanistan is invaded by the Soviets forces. Amir and his father are forced to flee and immigrate to the US thus bringing a separation of ties between Amir and Hassan. The decades that follow reveal hidden secrets and brings an older Amir back to his homeland which now resembles a war torn region more than the once peaceful land where he flew kites and plucked pomegranates and read stories to Hassan.

Hosseini, an Afghani immigrant himself does wonderfully well to portray loyalty, betrayal, hope and redemption all rolled together in this emotionally charged story. Even though the the book is a work of fiction, the author has deliberately drawn parallels between the events in story and what Afghanistan has gone through in the past few decades right from the Russian takeover to the atrocities afflicted by the Taliban. This gives the book a touch of reality and I would highly recommend you read it.

My mother bought this book about a year and a half back and I somehow never ended up reading it in spite of her more-than-usual praise for it but I am so glad to have finally read it. The book can be a real eye opener since it is based upon events similar to what Afghanistan has witnessed. There is also a film based on the book by the same name. I must give it a look as well.

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